The Aretha Franklin biopic, Respect is long, arduous and filled with the Queen of Soul’s glorious music. This musical biopic has some wonderful supporting roles played by Broadway actors. Aretha’s renowned minister father is played byForest Whitaker. Her mother by the radiant and haunting Audra McDonald, her sister’s by Hailey Kilgore and Saycon Sengbloh and an underused Tituss Burgess as James Cleveland, American gospel singer, musician, and composer. Known as the King of Gospel. Broadway director Liesl Tommy does well but again this movie plays along.
Jennifer Hudson tries her hardest, but recieved no R-E-S-P-E-C-T from the Academy Awards. I completely understand why as Skye Dakota Turner, who plays the younger Franklin’s performance is layered and fascinating. Hudson feels more like she is playing with one note. We do not see the progression of the demons that this film seems to say plagued her existence. Part of the problem is the screenplay by Tracey Scott Wilson and story by Wilson and Callie Khouri.
The film starts out at the family home in Detroit, Michigan in the 1950s. Her father is waking her up to sing in her nightgown for his party guests who include Duke Ellington, Dinah Washington (Mary J. Blige) and Ella Fitzgerald. The young Aretha sings the hell out of Fitzgerald’s “My Baby Likes to Bebop.” Then her mother dies, and she is raped and becomes pregnant at 12 and 14.
Her father gets her a contract with John Hammond (Tate Donovan) at Columbia, but Aretha’s doesn’t really have her own sound.
To get away from her controlling father, 18 year old Aretha marries the violent Ted White (Marlon Wayans). She and gets a recording contract with Atlantic Records’ Jerry Wexler (Marc Maron). When she reinvents the Otis Redding song “Respect” out of her personal trial and tribulations it becomes the anthem against racism and sexism and her star is on the rise.
Her parents fighting, sexual and mental abuse, misogyny, exploitation and dependency are all the demons Aretha deals with, but we really don’t see the battle and the release, so we are left wanting to know more and having to do the research on our own.
iThe film ends with her documentary filmed record of her live soul album, Amazing Grace and then to archival film footage of the real Queen of Soul bringing down the house at the Kennedy Center Honors.
Also snubbed from the Oscars is Here I Am (Singing My Way Home), co-written by Hudson, Carole King and Jamie Alexander Hartman, which is unremarkable.